October 10, 2008
Council Delays Ballot Referendum
By Amanda Baumfeld
MONTEBELLO - In front of hundreds of protesting residents, the City Council on Wednesday postponed a decision on whether to let voters decide who takes out the trash in this city's commercial areas.
With some Council members saying they were afraid of being sued, the vote was 3-2 to put off a decision to place a referendum on a March ballot. The referendum would allow a popular vote to determine if Athens Services should have the sole right to haul trash from commercial areas.
Mayor Bill Molinari and Councilwoman Mary-Anne Saucedo-Rodriguez opposed while council members Robert Urteaga, Rosemarie Vasquez and Kathy Salazar voted to postpone the decision.
The vote came after Athens Services in July was awarded a contract to haul all trash in the city. Much of the commercial trash service previously was carried out by 13 independent haulers.
Independent haulers circulated a petition calling for a referendum that would revoke Athens' contract and allow other haulers to work in the city.
They gathered 6,286 signatures. Of those, 4,578 were deemed valid by the Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder's Office. State law requires 2,550 signatures or 10 percent of the city's 25,496 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
Then on Monday, Irene Villapania of Montebello, with the support of Athens, filed a lawsuit against the city. The suit challenges the validity of the referendum and questions how signatures were collected.
Villapania, a director at Azusa Chamber of Commerce, is being represented by several attorneys who also represent Athens.
"I think the council made the proper decision," said Dennis Chiappetta, executive vice president of Athens. "The residents were lied to dramatically."
Tuesday's decision upset many residents, who packed the council chambers and spilled out into the hallway to hear the verdict.
Many Athens employees also came to the meeting. Some spoke on the benefits the exclusive contract could bring to the city, such as less truck traffic and money for infrastructure.
The 15-year contract, worth about $7.8 million annually, provides Montebello with $500,000 and 7.5 percent of gross receipts from commercial accounts. Approved by Urteaga, Salazar and Vasquez, it also phases out the 13 independent haulers who currently collect trash.
The same council majority is asking residents to wait for the outcome of the lawsuit building frustration among independent trash haulers.
Molinari and Saucedo-Rodriguez said they supported the will of the petitioners.
"My opinion is that we should ... allow this to go to a vote of the people," Molinari said.
Staff Writer Robert Hong contributed to this story.
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